Prior to last Sunday's game against the Jets, running back Darrynton Evans had taken just two offensive snaps – both coming in Week 11 against the Falcons – as he's spent most of his first season with the Bears on the practice squad.
But on the Bears' opening drive at MetLife Stadium, Evans created an explosive play, turning a checkdown from quarterback Trevor Siemian into the team's largest gain of the day – 33 yards.
On second-and-7 from the Jets 42, Siemian dropped back off play-action and completed the quick pass to Evans at the 40. The third-year RB felt linebacker C.J. Mosley on his back hip, "but knew I was faster than him," then made another defender miss around the 20 before finally being brought down at the 9.
"He's an explosive athlete," coach Matt Eberflus said. "You saw him make that one catch. He did a real nice job of making that safety miss and taking it down there. We always tell them to do a good job of falling forward. He did a nice job with that. He did a nice job in protection as well. He knew his assignment. He played fast. So that shows he knew his assignment, knew what he was supposed to do. We're excited for him."
Evans moved into the backup running back role against the Jets, finishing the game with 9 carries for 34 yards while playing 18 snaps on offense and 10 on special teams.
"It felt good, just showing everybody I can do what I'm here to do," Evans said. "I tell people all the time, like most people look at it as 'Oh, you were on practice squad earlier in the year,' but you've got to understand that everybody here is professional. We do this for a living. I've been playing football since I was six, seven years old. So just coming in, prepare, do what you've got to do, and then just show everybody what you've been doing your whole life. And that's essentially what it was to me."
After being signed to the active roster last Monday, Evans went into the week knowing he'd have opportunities, but "didn't know I was gonna have that much." To the casual fan, there's often not as much value placed on practice squad players, but Evans believes that role comes with just as many challenges as being on the active roster.
"I feel like if you're not in the business, a lot of people think that you're just a practice dummy versus you're still preparing for a game, getting coached up the same as everybody else," Evans said. "But it's actually a lot. I feel like practice squad's a lot more, because you've got to scout the other team, do things that the other team does, as well as staying on top of the stuff your team does. So I feel like it's a lot more."
Evans isn't new to this either, having spent his first two seasons in the league with the Titans, who took him in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft out of Appalachian State. As a rookie, Evans played in five games, totaling 14 carries for 54 yards and catching two passes for 27 yards and a touchdown.
While injuries forced him to miss the rest of the season and all but one week of the 2021 campaign, he still gained valuable playing experience and learned how to prepare for NFL games.
"Even on the practice squad, I had to prepare as if I was playing because you never know," Evans said. "Me coming in my rookie year was the COVID year, so you had guys practice all week and then day of the game can't play because they got COVID, and then next man up. So I feel like that year really helped me mentally prepare for a game not knowing if people are gonna play or people aren't gonna play."
As Khalil Herbert remains sidelined on IR with a hip injury, not eligible to return until Week 16 against the Bills, Evans will likely have more opportunities to showcase his abilities in the offense.
Evans said his goals for the remainder of the season are to show "I can help contribute to the team and help the team win."
"It's not necessarily anything individual-wise," Evans said. "But just with me on the field, we have a better chance of winning. That's just something I want to show to this team, as well as every other team. Just any time this guy's on the field, he's here to make a play, and he's somebody who can help us win a ball game."